Ah, the sweet lure of entrepreneurship. What’s not to love? Working for yourself, setting the rules, forging your own path into the unknown, marketing, networking. Wait, marketing? Networking? You have to market yourself and network? How do I do that? How do I sell other people on my skills in such a way that will make them hire me over the next person? How do I build a network?
This is what I have been grappling with for the last few months – trying to figure out how to get my name and my services out there. There are freelance sites such Elance, oDesk, and Guru, but it’s worldwide competition and it’s hard to stand out and get the gigs the actually pay a decent rate. These are great resources, but I want to be able to work with local businesses who don’t already have someone with my skill set on staff – how do I find those people?
Which brings me to the marketing and the networking. Biznik is a great start for networking, and though I have been a member for some time, I have never utilized it the way I should and am confident that really digging my heels in and participating will reap positive benefits for myself and other Biznik members and visitors who may need my services.
There is also your local Chamber of Commerce, or here in Portland, Oregon, thePortland Business Alliance. The problem with this, however, is most entrepreneurs who are staring a business have a shoestring budget, if that, and membership with the Chamber or it’s equivalent is quite pricey – though I believe worth it if you have the money to spend. Then there is marketing, which is really difficult on a shoestring budget, but can be done. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites are an obvious choice. Craigslist is also a possibility, though precautions should be taken to ensure your safety when responding to prospects. Local newspapers sometimes do free press releases – though those would be more appropriate for an event to market your business. Which is another idea. If you have access to a community room, try hosting an informal meet and greet of small local businesses.
Partnering with other local business could also be a way to get your name out there. For example, small accounting firms often have clients who work for themselves. A partnership could mean they refer you to their clients or have your information on their website or at their place of business, and as your own business picks up, you return the favor by sending clients their way.
The trick I’m discovering is to be creative by thinking outside the accepted paradigm. I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t confident in my abilities, so why is it so hard to carry out my marketing and networking ideas? Part of the answer lies with societal norms, upbringing, and your own personality. We are taught from any number of sources, that self-promotion is rude or self-indulgent. No one wants to hear how great you are, except that if someone is looking for your skill set, they actually do. To a point.
The other part of the answer is getting out of our own way to success. Some people are born with personality traits that make them a natural for self-promotion and marketing their product or service. They have learned to walk the fine line between coming off as obnoxious and coming off as confident. So how do we get out of our own way? I believe the best way is to just suck it up and go out there and do it. Show the world what we’re made of and how the solutions or products we offer will be a game-changer in their world.
I was talking to a local actor the other day who has near paralyzing stage fright. Before a performance, he has to do pushups and breathing exercises just to get out of his own mind and escape his insecurities and fear. Why would he bother, you ask? Because he loves acting, and he’s wonderful at it, so he pushes himself with every fiber of his being to walk out on that stage.
So my advice to myself and anyone else who has a fear of self-promotion – if the path you are leading makes your soul sing, then use every fiber of your being to walk out onto that stage. As Macbeth says in Act 5, “…Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more…” There can be many scenes in a life, but each life has only one act – we must embrace our worth and share it with the world!